Talking to Your Children about Tragedies in the News

There’s been a lot of violence in the news lately; it seems like there’s another shooting or bombing nearly every day. These tragedies all get substantial media coverage, whether it’s accurate or not.

During times of crisis, children can have big feelings in response to the information they are seeing and hearing around them. Normalizing these feelings and assuring children that ALL feelings are okay will help to manage unexpected and challenging emotions. Focusing on ways to normalize reactions and find ways to de-stress and decompress as a family can be very helpful.

How do we talk to our kids when there is often so much still unknown, but there are graphic images and reports everywhere? Do we even talk to them about it? 

Pediatric Psychologists from the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s offer tips to help support your child and/or teen in the face of difficult situations, tragedies and news events. 

Manage News & Media Exposure

  • Limit the amount of news coverage they see, including time spent on social media and ask them what they are seeing/hearing and if they have questions. There is often lots of video with graphic images. Adults do not need to see this more than once (if they do at all) and kids certainly should not.
  • Be mindful of your conversations with other adults - look for private space away from curious ears.

Talk to Your Child 

  • If your child is old enough to be connected to social media or has friends that are, they already know something. It is good to find out what they understand and correct as much misinformation as possible. Not talking about it can make an event seem even worse to a child.
  • Share the facts in an age-appropriate way. Answer questions as best as your child can understand. Don’t overshare. You know your child best.
  • Encourage them to share what they are feeling so you can help them sort through difficult feelings. Look for opportunities to correct any false information, magical thinking or self-blame. Children and teens may be strongly affected by what happened, or they might not be affected at all. It often depends on prior experiences and their age.

Offer Support 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified the presence of safe, stable, and nurturing adults as the most important protective factor for children and young people in the face of stress and adversity.

  • Be sure you are managing your own stress and anxiety (“Put on your own oxygen mask first so you can continue to help others!”).
  • Comfort and reassure them that you and other adults are working together to keep them safe.
  • It is usually best to continue with your usual routines as much as possible, but it can be appropriate to relax the rules.
  • Seek professional help if your child is having a severe and/or prolonged reaction to the event. Your pediatrician is an excellent resource.

For more tips, watch a Facebook Live chat with Colleen Cicchetti, PhD, and Tara Gill, PhD. They are pediatric psychologists and experts in treatment for children who have been exposed to trauma. In this video, they offer great advice on talking to kids about violence in the news. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics also has some great information on talking to children about disasters, and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network is another helpful resource. 

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